Tattoo You

Originally posted August 6, 2002

Ever since our first mother, Eve, facilely discovered multiple reasons to do what God had expressly commanded her through Adam not to do, we’ve proven to be, in our fallen estate, a darkness-loving lot that excels in creatively justifying any sin-embracing choice we desire to make. This ability wreaks havoc in ethics. No sooner do we learn the right thing than we begin paralogizing in the pursuit of what we think of as freedom. But freedom from God’s Law as a rule of faith and life is no freedom at all. Some think the opposite of Law is Grace. Rather, the opposite of Law is chaos, meaninglessness and death. Thinking which leads to a justification for disobedience is, by definition, wrong thinking.

With the modern church having largely capitulated to some or another form of antinomianism, it should not surprise us that it seems ever to be engaged in lowering the flag before each new assault on the ethics of the Antithesis. Whether we are asked to adjust God’s standards for marriage and divorce, or Lord’s Day worship, or the tithe, or homosexuality, or love of the brethren, we find an ever-vigilant phalanx of theologians whose favorite color is grey and whose favorite work is dismantling the Antithesis, directing us, like the serpent did Eve, to ignore what God says and to seek life in death.

In every dispensation God has made it clear that his people are a people of life, a people distinct from the world, a people with a different idea of wisdom, a people with a different way of living. God’s word to Israel and the church is (of course) one: Do not think as they think; do not do as they do ( Dt. 18:9; Eph. 4:17-20 ).

Keeping God’s law in Christ is a community affair. To comply with the demands of the Antithesis, it is necessary not only to have those commands, but to have a people committed to abiding by them. Though we are made up of individuals, the covenant community is an entity in its own right, an organism which confesses covenant truth and lives the covenant life. We are to be a people set apart both by what we believe and how we behave.

Included in the set-apartness required of us in both the Old and New administrations of the covenant is the sanctification of our bodies unto God. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world ( Rom. 12:1-2 a).

Only a Gnostic, a Platonist or a nut would interpret the command to present our bodies to God as having nothing to do with our bodies. The human body is most definitely a concern of God’s and he has given us various laws designed to maintain its integrity and dignity, to keep it suitable for one in service to the living and true God. If anything, the New Testament heightens our concern with the body, for there it is oft-designated a temple of God. And we must not desecrate God’s temple. The wicked say, Our lips [and our bodies] are our own ( Ps. 12:4 ). The Christian answers with the great confession: I am not my own, but belong body and soul to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

But confessions without content remain mere words: pretty, maybe, but empty. When we confess that our bodies belong to God, do we actually believe that he may regulate what we do with them? At one time this was definitely what the Christian community believed. Lately, however, it seems to be standing with its hands in its pockets as it watches a new wave of defiance of this confession.

A phenomenon among us that is gaining notoriety and adherents, and sadly making inroads into Christian circles, is the deliberate and systematic desecration of the human body. It is making progress among us for three reasons: the Christian community has 1) neglected the law of God; 2) largely lost its sense of being a community of grace and law; and 3) bought into the notion that fashion is, for all intents and purposes, a matter in which God is disinterested.

The diverse methods of self-desecration have been lumped together under the fitting initials BM, though here it stands for body modification. BM includes piercing, tattooing, scarring, branding, cutting and mutilation. BM is becoming more than a trend: it is an identifiable subculture, impacting millions through a huge presence on the Internet. There are even international conventions. BM shops are proliferating at an astonishing rate (the one across the street from Messiah’s offices does a very brisk business).

Body piercing, like marijuana to heroin, is often but the first step into a world of multiple self-inflicted indignities. And like marijuana, proponents think it is the easiest to justify. After all, who hasn’t seen the male athletes and movie stars with their earrings? And haven’t you seen the picture of Shakespeare wearing one in his left ear?

And thus the reasoning begins with an assumption that what is right for women must also be right for men, and what is right in popular culture must be right for the Christian. But our standard is the word of God. And that word gives us warrant to regard piercing as possibly appropriate for some, but not necessarily for others. (The other forms of BM are fit for none but pagans, as we’ll see.)

Put plainly, piercing is normally an act appropriate only for women and, in some cases, male slaves.

Delicacy is difficult here–and I want to avoid a charge of misogyny–but the fact is that woman, by her from-the-creation role in the marriage act, is a piercee. Within marriage, of course, no stigma at all attaches to this, but outside of marriage, Scripture often refers to it as a humbling ( Dt. 21:14; 22:24 ; 22:29 ). (In this regard, too, childbirth is woman’s triumphant vindication–consider this when exegeting 1 Tim. 2:15 .)

Obviously, piercing for a woman need not involve sodomy or lowering. She was made a woman, for man, a fact to which her body itself testifies.

Man, however, was not made a woman nor was he made to abide piercing. It is still a universal that he is not expected to. The recent attack on a Brooklyn prisoner provides a tragic case in point. The Associated Press reported: One of the police officers charged with torturing a man by sodomizing him with a stick bragged about the attack, saying he had to break a man who took a swing at him. Officer Justin Volpe also told fellow officers I had to bring a man down tonight.

Piercing may or may not bring a woman down, depending on many factors. But piercing always brings a man down. That piercing bespeaks a relational subordination is implicitly recognized even in our American culture, yet often below the surface. To the astute it appears dramatically when considering the vocabulary of popular curses (as in humiliating phrases, not maledictions). The most common two-word curse in English, the one we want our children never to use, is simply a wish for someone to be humiliated through being pierced. To be pierced, for a man, is necessarily to be lowered.

For in the view of Scripture, piercing is a token of being under the dominion of another. (Even the unique piercing of Christ was a testimony of his total submission to the Father: Isaiah 53:5,10; Philippians 2:8; see also Psalm 40:6-8.) Since woman was created to be under the loving headship of her husband, piercing can be seen as consistent with that calling. Hebrew men, however, were called to be directly under the authority of God (see 1 Cor. 11:3 ).

Consequently, limitations of Hebrew servitude were codified in the law. But if a Hebrew servant, at the time of his manumission, desired to be permanently under the dominion of his master, this was to be indicated in a rite in which his ear was bored with an awl ( Ex. 21:6; Dt. 15:17 ). The fact that a pierced ear served as a sign of permanent subordination suggests that it was not practiced by males in general, else it would hardly serve as a distinguishing mark.

Some have called attention to the fact that Israelite males took off their golden earrings and contributed them to Aaron for the making of the golden calf. This seems to be the case ( Ex. 32:1-4 ). But out of what estate had they just escaped? That’s right: slavery. So this proves nothing other than that slaves had earrings. Similarly, those who cite the Ishmaelite practice of wearing gold earrings ( Judges 8:24 ) must not miss the point: the Ishmaelites had this custom, not the Israelites. Newly-delivered Hebrew slaves and Ishmaelites don’t constitute a powerful precedent for free males to engage in piercing themselves!

It is interesting that as men in our culture began to pierce their ears, women began piercing multiple holes in their ears. But it didn’t stop there. Piercing parlors now routinely pierce ears, lips, eyebrows, tongues, noses, nipples, and male and female genitals. For those who cringe, not only at the ghastliness of the piercings, but at the thought of the pain involved, you need to understand that the pain is central to the experience. This is freely admitted, even boasted of, in this new subculture.

One woman describes the piercing of her clitoris as a rite of sexual reclamation. The piercer explained, after a pre-piercing examination, that hers was going to be a particularly painful experience. She insisted that he proceed, and described the procedure: My body tensed. I heard Jim say, ‘Ready?’ [It was as if] one hundred thousand volts of electricity jolted me out of my body. My scream never passed my throat . . . I couldn’t see. After Jim inserted the ring in my clitoris and handed me a hand mirror, I stood up and paced the small room. I never had an experience of such intensity. My body tingled. I felt powerful, charged, triumphant . . . I was alive! For the first time in my life I felt whole, complete and perfect. She then tells that years later, she returned to school to broaden [her] understanding of pain, ecstasy and body modification.

Anyone who believes that this current obsession with body modification is simply a fashion statement is not merely naive, but ignorant of the literature of BM devotees. For them, the more radical piercings are self-consciously religious experiences. This association with paganism is known, understood and cherished. The piercings, etc., are regarded as rituals. Rituals take place in urban settings: libraries, public parks, warehouses, abandoned city sites. Rituals take many forms: piercing, tattooing, branding and scarification in private and public ceremonies, S/M [sado-masochistic] psychodramas in private dungeons, technoshamanic trance dances at underground Rave parties, psychedelic shamanism, in living rooms–any activity capable of producing the direct experience of spiritual truth and healing in the participant. Consider the mindset of someone who regards mutilation as healing!

What we are witnessing in BM is the developing self-consciousness of a Christ-rejecting culture. For the fundamental need of fallen man is atonement. This is critically important to know and understand. There is only one God-provided atonement, and that is the pierced and risen Christ. A societal rejection of this atonement will result in the arising of pseudo-atonements, typically involving the infliction of pain upon others or oneself.

Thus it is, that to ask Doesn’t that hurt?, is to miss the point. Of course it hurts! And the permanent holes and markings and scars are as sacraments of the false atonement. Thus the devil leads astray his hordes, turning their eyes and hearts from Christ to themselves.

A recent feature article in the New York Times Magazine talked about young people cutting themselves with knives, glass, fingernails, whatever, to feel better. The girl featured in the story told of how she cut herself the first time with a wallpaper cutter: It felt good to see the blood coming out, like that was my other pain leaving, too. It felt right and it felt good.

The New York Times, lacking a Christian worldview, can only describe the phenomenon; it cannot explain it. In an age of tattoos and nose rings, self-mutilation is the latest expression of adolescent self-loathing. According to Dr. A. Favazza, professor of psychiatry at the University of Missouri-Columbia medical school, Self-injury is probably a bit epidemic. He defines self-mutilation as the direct, deliberate destruction or alteration of one’s own body tissue without conscious suicidal intent. The Times recognized the relationship between the growing popularity of body modification and the estimated two million people injuring [themselves] in secret. We are beginning to look like a nation obsessed with cutting. One expert called it the addiction of the 90s.

The article cites self-injury in other cultures, but the antecedents noted are cults, pagans, homosexuals and sado-masochists. Hardly the kind of gallery to which a Christian or a Jew might appeal for justification for body-mutilation. Yet there is an increasingly vocal number of self-professing Jews and Christians intent on making BM just another form of lawful expression.

Interestingly, all the apologists I’ve read begin by rejecting the law as normative. First, a Jew: Are Jews prohibited from practicing body modification? In my opinion, the answer is ‘No,’ for several reasons. One, most Jews in the Reform [not to be confused with the Christian version of Reformed], Reconstructionist [not to be confused with the Christian version of Reconstructionist] and Conservative movements do not take the Bible to be pure divinely inspired word. He then explains that this view of Scripture (not surprisingly) facilitates acceptance/tolerance of such things as homosexuality, pre-marital sex, birth control . . . and our general rejection of antiquated sexist ideas. . . .

Next, a Christian, a United Methodist minister pastoring two Midwest churches, who has numerous piercings (including sublingual, nipple and genital) and a growing number of tattoos: This minister finds analysis of specific Biblical passages . . . useful, but prefers to justify BM theologically. (His theology includes spelling God as Godde, explaining that this is a term being used by some to shift away from the culturally gender-bound term, ‘God.’) BM, he insists, must be understood in the light of the Incarnation. For him this means that Godde acts in and through the human experience. Christians who reject BM are plagued by Hellenistic dualism. Enlightened Christians, such as himself, see the body as a sacrament of Godde. . . . My piercings and tattoos are my attempt to clothe and ornament well my body. His self-mutilations are profoundly expressive of Godde. Maybe so, but not of our God, not of the true God.

In the law it is written, Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD ( Lev. 19:28 ). The rabbis speak clearly on this passage: It was a pagan custom to gash the skin when a close relative died. They also did this when they suffered any other grief. With this they would call upon their deity to help them (cf. 1 Kg. 18:28 ). God told us to avoid this custom.

The Torah continues, ‘Do not make tattoo marks on your skin.’ It is forbidden to make any tattoo marks or to allow oneself to be tattooed. The pagans used to make tattoo marks by gashing their skin and then placing dye or other coloring into the gashes so the color would remain. We similarly see many Gentiles today who have tattoos on their arms, chests and other places. In ancient times this was done to show that they were like slaves to their pagan deity. The Torah therefore commands us not to do this. We are slaves of the Living and Everlasting God. We have our holy signs such as the mark of circumcision as well as the Sabbath and Festivals. These are the great signs that we are God’s servants.

The prohibitions of Leviticus 19:28 are said to include every area of the body, whether [generally] exposed or covered by clothing, and to be in effect everywhere, at every time, for both man and woman.

Compare this to the defense of BM by a self-described Christian: Christians are not bound by the Law. Remember that it’s not what you do; it’s what’s in your heart when you do it. Uh-huh. And hear yet another professing believer: These laws are from the first covenant, which Jesus replaced with the new covenant. This clever man uses the de facto American Christian view of the place of the law in the life of the Christian to release himself from any obligation to it. None but the Reformed can respond potently. But how can anyone respond to this fellow’s NT justification for BM? The sum of it, for him, is to be found in Eph. 5:29: For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church. What remains to be said when a professing Christian equates piercing, cutting, burning and slashing the body with nourishing and cherishing it? Pity his wife!! ( Eph. 5:28 ). And if we are to love neighbor as self, my advice to his neighbors: Move!

Among the Jews the historic penalty for violation of Lev. 19:28 was flogging. Of course, the Jews have not practiced flogging for some time, yet voluntary tattooing is non-existent among observant Jews, and almost non-existent among practicing Jews of most varieties. How do we explain this state of affairs, especially in view of the fact that nearly all Western Jews live in largely Gentile urban areas, where tattooing has not been unknown, and is sometimes not uncommon? There is a reason to explain this, and it is brimming with instruction.

Ironically, the reason can be traced to what is actually a myth: that if you have a tattoo, you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. (The truth is that you may be buried in a cemetery, but if it is largely orthodox, you may be consigned to an isolated area marked off and away from the frum (observant) Jews. Other conditions may apply: no prayers on behalf of the dead [don’t confuse these with Romish prayers]; no shrouds; no entitlement to ritual cleansing; no prayers at the time of burial; Shiva, the traditional mourning period, may not be observed. In short, the myth is a handy, though inaccurate, shorthand for the facts.)

Virtually every Jew I’ve ever known believes the myth to be true. And that belief alone was enough to utterly banish any thought of tattooing from our minds. We would never even for a moment entertain the thought of tattooing ourselves.

But this fear of being excluded in death from Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, is itself predicated upon a profoundly deep-seated understanding of oneself as a Jew. This, in turn, is built upon an understanding of Jewishness which utterly transcends the individual.

This–may I say?–is precisely where American Christianity has failed, pathetically and tragically failed. I am convinced that this a fruit of the triumph of Baptistic, atomistic, anti-covenantal theology in our history. Yet, be that as it may, the fact remains that the consciousness of a Jew regarding his being a Jew has value only as part of a called people. The suggestion that a certain behavior will disqualify him from being buried with his people is enough to banish any thought of that behavior.

Now try that with a typical American Christian youth who is contemplating body modification: tell him he won’t be allowed to be buried in a Christian cemetery. Oh, wow! Can’t you see him shaking in his boots?

Hardly. The fact is that we do not even approach (except among the Dutch Reformed) the Jewish sense of peoplehood. No matter that the Holy Spirit tells us that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9), we can’t help but think of ourselves as merely a collection of individuals who have made choices to become Christian. But this is precisely what the truth of the covenant, particularly as it is seen in infant baptism, is so-well fitted to overcome: we were appointed, designated and constituted a people by the one and only God! It is he who made us a people and not we ourselves!

Also involved in the Jewish rejection of BM is, as we have noted, the belief in the continuing validity of the law of God. The orthodox Jews have bested us with a highly developed sense of corporate calling. They also hover closer to Scripture when they regard God’s moral standards as irrevocable. It is quite true that Christians, unlike the Jews, are united firstly by a common faith and creed. But this faith must never be thought of as a replacement for God’s law, but rather as its only proper foundation ( Rom. 3:31 ). True Christianity does not differ from Judaism by affirming faith and rejecting deeds. Rather it differs from Judaism in the arrangement of these two essential covenant elements: Jews believe in what they do; Christians do what they believe in.

The church in America and elsewhere will soon find itself plagued by the in-your-face confrontation of Body Modifiers. If it is to respond in a God-pleasing manner, its response will be exceedingly simple: we have no such practices, nor do the churches of God ( 1 Cor. 11:16 ). We do not do these things. We do not do such things because: 1) they are contrary to God’s Law. We do not pretend to know how to apply every law in every generation and culture, but this one offers little difficulty, Biblically or historically. This is a pagan practice and we are not to be like the pagans. 2) Such practices are contrary to God’s requirement to render our bodies unto him in righteousness. Our bodies are not our own. 3) We reject practices which confuse the differences between male and female, and which confuse the differences between Christ’s people and the world. 4) Above all, we reject these practices because we are the people of the atonement. All these practices are inseparable from a mindset that operates without atonement. But we are controlled by Christ’s atonement in all we believe and do. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. 5) Thus we are of all people the most free, for we alone have been set free from the tyranny of the devil. It was for freedom that Christ set us free. We do not use our freedom as a cover-up for evil.

The encroachment of Body Modification into the church presents us with yet another opportunity to recover the sense of our unique calling. Shall we rise to the occasion or once again capitulate?

The task assigned by God to us, particularly those of us in Reformed churches, is huge. And it is comprehensive. It cannot be completed, however, unless we inculcate in our congregations a worldview and more: a consciousness, an identity as members of the covenant community, a community redeemed by God’s grace to abide by God’s law. Our calling impacts everything we do. We do not proclaim a one-dimensional Christ, but a Savior who is Prophet, Priest and King of his people, the Ruler, in fact, over all the world and all of life.


Originally posted December 22, 2016

Our Retort on tattoos was shared by a few. One share I learned of had prompted this (edited) response from a reader:

“I’m just curious why one verse in Leviticus is worthy of attacking fellow Christians over, while a bunch of others are ignored because they’re inconvenient?”

To which I say, Thank you. And more, to wit:

Why attack Christians over one verse?

I think this question has the potential to help us get closer to a problem that appears as an ever-present bedmate of Christians+tattoos. It could be called, “Who are you, Lord, to tell me what to do?” And whether you want to take my word for it or jump in and look it over for yourself, this is the whole of it, all 9 yards, when everything is scraped away.

Naturally, a bald and bold challenge as is posed by the question in that FORM is impermissible. As with human parents and their human children, the rules call for cloaking flagrant defiance. Knowing this, parents employ methods to help them classify the unacceptable responses of their offspring. The most familiar sifter is: “Did you HEAR me?” From the kids’ side, the plea-bargain comes wrapped in, “But I thought you said…”

“Just one verse” is, of course, what is imagined to be an artful way to tell God, “If you were really serious about that, well, I’d a’thought you would’ve made that clear.”

Present also in the objection is the clever horizontalization of things–the contempt for God’s sovereignty, authority and will which characterize the sins of body-modi is transformed to nothing more than difference of opinion among fellow Christians. “You have one verse supporting chewy candy; I have 2–and most woman–voting chocolate.” This way of framing the matter, of course, overlooks all the most important elements, such as God’s lovingkindness revealed IN HIS LAW FOR US. He and His “rules” are locked up in a room for cosmic spoilsports, to be let out only when unavoidable, necessary or of advantage to the one who dreams he holds the keys.

If we could manage to retain in our minds that sin IS lawlessness, the conversations with tattoo heads would be far more pleasant. For then we might find TWO parties’ intent on honoring God, individually and together. But typically, as soon as a tatt-head smells an objection to his chosen lust–there it is, in one phrasing or another, “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

Of course, if it ended up being a struggle between two human-originating opinions, the whole conversation could be just as well junked. But the tragic character of the phenomenon becomes much clearer as you observe the various squirms intent on keeping GOD out of the discussion. Of those tactics, “just one verse” sure dwells near the bottom.

First, what you heard from Schlissel certainly did NOT rely on one verse. Lev. 19:28, on the contrary, was treated as an instance of the type of “verse” (oy!–when the Word of God gets statistically abstracted and shelved, it hurts) in which the Lord is graciously shepherding us on how we are to remain faithfully His during our sojourns in the midst of God-haters to the right of us, atheists to the left.

Christians would do well to recall that our Lord Jesus, whom many have found to be a reliable example of what it means to be faithful (ahem), in a most intense encounter with the Father of Lies, incinerated three successive temptations, each with “a verse.” Are we to suppose the lord of Evil would have shown himself at the top of his game had he said, “That’s only one verse”? Uh, no. He acknowledged the power of “a verse” to vanquish by moving on to another temptation altogether.

But here, you see, the Squirms exhibit the sinful heart as clearly as it is likely to be found. The fundamental, raw, unvarnished problem goes back a looooong way. On one side we have God, who is owed ALL gratitude, our lives and redemption, and 100% of our love and obedience. On the other side are punks and ingrates who want to do what they want to do without Him interfering. THAT IS THE REAL, HONEST PICTURE. PERIOD. Just watch and it becomes clear (as I’ve been made to over and over and…..). It may begin with a, “God never said I couldn’t do body modi,” which is why I endeavored to demonstrate the “Everybody knowses” and their role in Scripture revelation. God’s disclosure of what we must know but might not is predicated upon us already knowing what everybody surely ought to know. He doesn’t feel a burden to “prove” that we need to or ought to eat before explaining which provocations might result in His depleting our food supply. Everybody knows we like and need food, so He focuses on the instructions we need to know if we’d like to live lives in which food is not hard to come by. So too, the Lord has not seen it as necessary to FIRST explain to us that we are made with a built-in aversion to pain and torture. But as an illustration of the depths of our depravity, we commonly hear Christian tatt-heads complaining that God’s will on the matter of body-modi is unclear or unknown because they can’t seem to find the verse which says, “Don’t mutilate yourself.” Think about this, PLEASE. If nothing else, it might enlist some sympathy for what I and others have to experience during our pleadings with, esp. young, ignorant Christians who don’t seem to have it quite fixed in their heads that aversion to pain is a gift from God of inestimable value. The fact that they are desirous of undergoing procedures which they know full well are grievous and perhaps torturous, and they know that the consequences of the procedures could result in the ineradicable pain of profound regret–later on, when they might discover that, despite their best efforts, they’ve somehow been afflicted with a little wisdom–they face these consequences, both the certain and the merely likely, with brainless bravado, even though the contemplated action is as far from “necessary” as any choice they will encounter, ever. Weighing in on the positive side (for them), standing naked as the sole idol urging them on toward pain and self-abasement and mutilation, is their new default Almighty: Cool. That’s right, people of God–we are entrenched in ARGUMENT here, with (mostly) young people purchased by God in Christ, who are tempted to negotiate with Hell. For the meager price of physical torture, along with a rider about a possible lifetime of regret, (we don’t include the far heavier price of displeasing their Lord because we are pretending that to be, for argument’s sake, an indeterminate matter)–for that low, low price they can walk away with something they hope they will think of as COOL. Oh, they do understand that not EVERYONE will see it as cool. They especially know that the ones who love them most, who have given them most, who are most firmly committed to their well-being–they know that these few will NOT think it cool, will not consider it a bargain. They know that their contemplated action may–no, check that. They know what they’re intending WILL–with absolute certainty–result in immediate, intense and long-lasting discomfort and/or pain for these few. But such considerations, for half of the hopeful tatt-heads, are beside the point. (For the other ‘half’, they ARE the point.) But be all this as it may, they cannot be bothered with details while knowing that the bargain may slip through their fingers if they don’t take decisive action NOW. After all, this is the kind of bargain that only comes about by knowing someone. Who do you suppose it is?

Be all this as it may, the bulk–if not the entirety–of the decisional mechanics have little or nothing to do with God. They don’t know anything of His revealed will which suggests He’s a’gin it. For most of the young transgressors, God-considerations are encompassed and dismissed in a single thought, which may be summarized thusly: “Two people I heard of who have body-modi are serious Christians. They were before and they continued to be afterward. Not only do these folks (one girl, one guy) go to church (“my church”), “But the guy, I know for a fact, not only reads the Bible, but he reads books ABOUT the Bible. So, if it was wrong or something, he’d surely know.” Against such solid evidence, what chance does a verse stand?

Presuming, again, that there is no known or knowable BIBLICAL reason NOT to ‘too, might the single verse be permitted to stand as evidence that, AT LEAST a man is not permitted to say that he is getting a tattoo FOR the Lord? It may not seem like much, but if it’s allowed, it could help, right? Because then we are allowed to read the Bible as if had at least as much authority as an Amazon Wishlist. At least we can trust that, however much we might love tattoos, God apparently doesn’t share our enthusiasm (look up etymology of that word for an irony) for them.

Lest I drift too far, let me say that nearest God enters the entire process is as a name to blurt or scream while the needle shows the skin who’s boss.

The point of all this is, we may behold in this issue/activity a snapshot of the place reserved for God in the hearts and minds of those who gather as “His Church.” Brothers and sisters throw me out along with my arguments but DO look at what comes at you from the other side. Every paragraph, sentence, word, letter may be plotted along one graph: I want to do it. God will not stop me.

In fact, unlike what we find in the temptations to other sins–where God and His Word are famous for repeated successful interventions, I can’t say that I know of a single instance where a Christian has confessed, “I want very much to get a tattoo, but God’s will governs me, not my own. Therefore, I’ve never yielded to the temptation.” Of course, such might occur daily; I assert only that I’ve not heard it. And the reason, I conjecture, lies not in Scripture’s lack of clarity, but rather in the maze we’ve erected to keep “God in the trunk, where He belongs. If there’s a flat, we’ll be sure to let Him know.”

I think I should add that, surprised or not, our congregation probably has more ink per square inch on the bodies who form its membership than 90% of similarly confessing churches. But this is simply because, for the most part, we happen to be made up of souls who were escorted into the Covenant by agencies other than parents. That is, we were made, not born, heirs. What’s more to the point, however, than the volume of ink we’re now ashamed of, is the volume of our determination that no FRESH ink finds its way into these ranks. We owe that much and more to the One whose shed blood effected our forgiveness. So, all parties here know, the skin that brings it in will quickly be put out. The lusts-du-jour are the first to be put on notice. A church rarely does a good job trying to be a pillar of fashion. But it doesn’t need to pretend when it accepts the role of pillar and foundation of truth–whether of truth contained in one verse, or in 32,000. And wow–THAT’s a lot of ink!


Al Siebring: You’re gonna hate me, brother. Because while I agree with you on this stuff, I have a very clever and rascally daughter who – long after she had left the nest, and in spite of my oft-cited objections – went and got some ink.  A tiny, unobtrusive little question in a fancy script. Written on her ankle.

The question….. “What is your only comfort?”  Can’t really disown her for that, can I? LOL

Steve Schlissel: Oh so cute, until the grandies take the clue, and why stop at Q&A 1? 126 more are just waiting to be fit on skin.

But really, Al, once the question shifts to CONTENT, the war is lost. I suspect you perhaps may not see that at the moment. Obviously, in a society devoted to idols, in which tattoos can be procured on demand, a 5 minute walk/drive from anywhere, the temptation to indulge will be too much for some. And some of these will attempt to mitigate ancillary damage by clever content choices. (But Mona, I did it for YOU!) From where I sit, it makes it all the more imperative that we have our PRINCIPLES straight and in order. I am not pouring out digits in service to a personal preference. (“Some get abortions, some don’t. Though I’m opposed, when my kid got one, I supported her.”) In fact, my point includes, I thought, a stress on this sin’s ubiquity and tbe way that fact invites us to recharacterize the act. It is NOT cute. It is not “Some like this, some like that.”

Rather, it is this: We are all being regimented to live increasingly large swaths of our lives with NO meaningful reference to God’s actual, living, applicable Law. Period. Every instance in which a meaningful appeal takes place will now elicit FROM CHRISTIANS, “Loosen up! Stop judging! Who made you judge,” etc., etc., etc. Thus, we live in a time in which CHRISTIAN CULTURE–the atmosphere, the coloring of the spaces between Christians, the ambience in which we AS CHRISTIANS, live with other CHRISTIANS–we live in a time wherein all of that has been completely given over to ANTI-Christianity. For we as Christians have no room for God’s own Law to rule in governance over our “spaces.” The implications of this are ENORMOUS, and those bright enough to grasp one or two would do well to reach out and do so. If the foundations be destroyed…

For to leave a serious treatment of a Law of God in order to dwell upon opinions about the “godliest” way to violate and despise it, is to my mind, no cause for a smile. I routinely talk with pagans about their tatt content and quality. You cannot measure the grief which comes from successive discoveries that conversations with CHRISTIANS get pulled to the SAME place.

I’m groping for an analogy. It’s like trying to explain to a group that Christianity is not just another religion. It is the truth. Other religions may be measured relative to it, but Christianity must be measured solely against God’s revelation. Then, after demonstrating that Christian theism is the indispensable presupposition of all intelligible predication, they respond, “Wow. Thank you for your opinion.” And THAT from the Christians!

If God’s Law read, “Do not get non-Heidelberg tattoos,” the story you tell would be cute. Since that isn’t what it says, I think the matter goes back to you, not me.

It isn’t about content.

Surely we realize–don’t we– that the range of our moral facility has been effectively reduced to Facebook proportions. To any question of morality, only two operative choices exist: “Like” — or nothing. 

Where does God place in that picture? His prophets, priests and kings?


Schlissel Retorts #11

Tattooing is something explicitly forbidden by God. Yet people do it. We know people do it. People also voted for Hillary. We do not gain infallible understanding of what is right or what is wrong from what people do or don’t do. That is not the way God’s people come to understand their responsibilities and obligations. What God told Joshua is what He tells all of us: “Follow the path I’ve told you to take, not turning to the right or to the left.”

Haven’t we noticed that our society–from whom we ought to be easily distinguished at a glance–is following a course of moral “progress” marked by successive redefinition? Everyone is getting a chance to regard himself as truly moral and truly righteous–without making any change in his preferences or deeds. It’s easy as ABC: take a sin, declare it “not a sin,” and voila!, righteousness abounds. If your favorite sin hasn’t had its turn yet, be patient–its day will come.

The thing about tattoos is how clear a window they provide for observing this phenomenon. God’s Word has not changed. The uniform testimony of thousands of years of Jewish and Christian interpretation and practice has not changed. But man’s desire-du-jour has, in our time, arrived at body modification. Imagine that! Self-assertion is fast becoming indistinguishable from self-eradication. Abortion is demanded as a “right,” no consideration given to the nature of the right being demanded: it is the “right” to cut off–by one’s own hand–one’s stake or claim or part in the future. Sanity says, “You can have it–I want no part of that!” Similarly, arguing FOR the right of body-mod is arguing for the right to degrade, to defile, to permanently mar the gift God gave each of us to house the many others from His hand.

“Enlightened” and liberated Christians stand determined to deliver self-mutilation from the closet of shame, they are resolved to bring it out of ignominy and into the burgeoning array of once-sins which are now just more boring–morally neutral–choices. In fact, Christian body-modi lovers generally don’t trouble themselves to argue a case–they simply–and arrogantly–presume it. Ah, the benefits of this new and improved way of seeing the world! And with the emergence of tattooing from the Land of No-no, comes its conscription to stand as a sentry, guarding other perversions recently hatched into light out of the same Leviticus 18-19 closet. The idiot advocates of “designer body loathing” don’t yet recognize their role as door-stoppers (in the open position). When they do, it will be too late. But such a high price being paid–for what? For being “cool.” Period. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for…being cool.” This hurts–even more when you ask, Is this the end for which our gracious Savior sweated blood, fought demons, and gave His body to death on a cross?

Christian indulgence in tattooing is not merely defiant, revolutionary and stupid–it is a Christian tithe to Satan’s program, with a designation in the memo portion: “to protect the reconfiguration of homosexual lust from damnable perversion to fundamental, constitutional right.” However obvious it may be to a clear Christian mind that ripping your own flesh and injecting permanent stains under your skin is NOT cool, an increasing number of casualties in this raging religious war, do not get it–because they don’t WANT to get it. And such studied ignorance qualifies them to stand guard protecting another practice found condemned in the same original, Biblical context. Thus, body-modification marks the end of “slave to fashion” as a metaphor and makes it a pain-filled reality, now.


Schlissel Retorts #11B

Heidelberg: My only comfort in life and in death is my rock-solid conviction that I am NOT my own, but belong–BODY and soul…to my faithful Savior, Jesus…

Tattoo heads: But I really want one. I think they’re cool.

Hmmm. Which do ya think? Gee, this is hard.

Well, okay, let’s make it easier. Let’s bring in the Bible.

Bible: 1. Explicitly forbids body modification. God says, “Even in your most extreme anguish, don’t you DARE cut yourselves or ink your body. I am the LORD–the One giving you this command. Who do you think YOU are? 2. His people don’t adorn themselves with images–they ARE His image. 3. Body cutters and tattooers and self-defilers are uniformly presented as pagan to the hilt, unloving, God-haters and evil, possessed by demons, or just plain, positively nuts/psycho. 4. They are NOT walking in God’s Law but DIRECTLY against it. 5. Many sins are bad, but sinning against your body is worse. How stupid are you? Your body is a temple of God. It DOES NOT belong to you. Therefore glorify God with your body–as HE defines “glorify,” not YOU. Who do you think you are?

Tattoo heads: But I really like them.

Is this hard? Then let your church help you. If they are faithful, they’ll let you and everyone know, defiling your body in these ways, self-consciously, defiantly, willfully and stupidly, may and probably will lead to excommunication. Perhaps Hell.

You’d better hope they are COOL. (But they won’t help.)

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