Friday, July 6, 2018

    Foreword: This article is intended to be from the perspective of legitimate sexual abuse. It goes without saying that accusations should not be taken lightly, but there should also be evidence of the claim presented before any legal action is taken. For in a world where false accusations can ruin people's entire lives it is important that every word is established upon the evidence of any claim. With that being said, let's jump in: 

     This is a topic I have been passionate about for a long time and one that I feel it is my moral obligation to address. As a warning, i'm going to be much more candid in this post. More so than I normally am. Usually I attempt to handle all my topics with a certain level of tact and try to keep it as a calm discussion, but with the gross mishandling of so many issues like this in churches I believe I must be forward in my approach. 

      In my time in ministry, I have personally witnessed the damage that such an issue can cause to a church, and what happens when the administration of a church fails to handle it. I have heard of too many churches that sweep such issues under the rug, cover it up, or even worse, ignore that it's even happening in the first place. For far too long many churches have ignored the severity of this issue and the dangers that it can cause. I have seen families attempt to brush it off in their home as "just another sin" and churches constantly pushing the whole "forgive and forget" mantra. Now, I'm not saying that forgiveness is not important, but to ignore it under this guise is greatly deceiving yourself and dangerous to everyone around you. 

What Does the Bible Say? 

     I don't think it's any surprise that God wants the church to stand on that which is morally pure, to protect one another, and to discourage any sexual immorality. What makes this topic so difficult is how secretive abusers are for they are predatory in nature. Their entire goal is to get others to trust them, be likable, and then get their victims alone. They usually pick those who they have easy access to or those who seem introverted and will not object. The Bible has some very clear commands on the duties of the church in moral situations. First, we are to be the pillar of truth. So therefore we must stand on that which is morally sound and true. 

1 Timothy 3:15if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

We are to protect the weak and give justice to those who can't protect themselves: *

Psalms 82:3-4 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

We are also told to not despise children, but to let lead them to Christ: *

Matthew 18:10“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 19:14but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

     Probably the most evident example of this is the story of the defiling of Dinah. Here are a few of the highlights: *

Genesis 34:1-2 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
Genesis 34:7The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done. 

      After Shechem raped Dinah he desired her to be his wife. Jacob, her father, was angry and righteously so. Instead of Jacob going straight to war with these people he decided to protect his family in a way that seemed much more cunning. The sons of Jacob told Shechem and Hamor that before they can marry any of the Israelites that the men must first be circumcised. Shechem's people agreed to be circumcised so that the women of Israel could be their own. Read the following account: *

Genesis 34:25-26On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem's house and went away.
     The family brought justice to the weak and the vulnerable. They plundered their city and claimed everything for their own. Jacob, her own father, was hesitant about this action because he was afraid of the numbers of the Canaanites and Perizzites. When he objected to Simeon and Levi's actions they responded with this: *
Genesis 34:31“Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

    That's where the story ends oddly enough. Seemingly to indicate their message to their father resonated truthfully. Now, this isn't a command to bring mortal retribution to all abusers and their families, but we see how seriously this issue was handled in ancient Israel. God's own people dealt with sexual abuse harshly. In fact, just to seduce a woman consensually had its own set of repercussions let alone rape. 

   The point is, God does not condone such actions and He desires us, His church, His Bride, the Body of Christ to stand up and defend those who cannot defend themselves. To protect the victims of abuse, to treat is with severity and importance. It was never to be neglected. The church should be a place that protects the unprotected, loves the unloved, and vehemently fights for the safety of those around them. It ought to be a beacon of truth to the world. 

    What's sad, is that the opposite has happened. Many look at the church as a safe haven for such predators and that the church welcomes them. My associate pastor has worked in law enforcement for years and he told me that many legal personnel view the church with the eyes of scrutiny due to the many abusers they have had to arrest within such organizations. 

     This is a massive failing on the church's part. Granted, things will happen that the administration can't always control and things will happen in secret that many won't know about, but what happens when those things are exposed? How should the church respond? Many churches will use 1 Corinthians 6 as an excuse to not press charges against these people and to "handle it within the church" but the issue is that this passage is dealing with 'trivial' cases (vs. 2) and primarily due to small civil disputes. This is not a trivial topic, this is a topic that Simeon and Levi went on a killing spree with. The Bible makes it very clear how we should respond. 

Romans 13:1-2Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

     The government requires that we report such issues to them or else we could suffer repercussions. The church ought to be full of exemplary law abiding citizens. This particular topic is one that makes sense. The government wants to protect its citizens from abusers and separate them from mainstream society. The government is taking a moral stand here and the church ought to as well. We are to submit to the authorities unless they contradict God's Word. The governing authorities are a tool of God's. Notice what the Bible says a few verses after: 

Romans 13:4for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

     This should be a clear call to the church that covering these issues or dealing with them "internally" is in direct violation of scripture. If you are handling such issues internally and not bringing it forth to the government you are not only violating scripture, but you are confirming the negative testimony that world has with the church. Only proving their point that the church doesn't properly handle sexual abusers and instead covers them up for someone else to deal with or to protect their own reputation. 

Spreading the Cancer 

     When churches are negligent in dealing with abusers it only allows the tumor to grow. If you simply choose to excommunicate them you're just letting them be someone else's problem, and enabling the abuser to continue his/her behavior elsewhere. This means that each continual victim from here on out is not only because of the abuser's actions, but also because of the church's negligence.  The Bible stresses the importance of warning others of incoming danger, and if not, their blood is on your shoulders. God demands that we remain vigilant and that we warn others of incoming danger. This is not to humiliate the abuser, but to protect the potential victims. Do not enable abusers with silence. (This applies to all areas of abuse.)

Ezekiel 33:6But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.

     Although this is part of the Old Testament the morality of this rings true. We are told to protect the weak, to defend the innocent, to bring justice and truth, then it makes sense that when we fail to do those things we are like the watchmen in the tower who failed to signal the city of the incoming danger. We are practically opening the doors for abusers to walk into our fellow Christians' churches and homes to abuse their friends and families. I will never understand the why churches would choose simply to kick-out a church member for this abuse rather than bring this abuse to the law. 

     The issue is that many churches say "it's just another sin like all the others" and in many ways that statement is correct. It is another sin and all our sin is deplorable before God. This sin, however, is not like many of the others. This sin affects people on a very deep level. If done to children it can shape and change their view of sexuality for the rest of their lives. It can make people scared, paranoid, insecure, and have a constant feeling of being dirty. Many constantly feel as if they have been defiled by their abuser and have a hard time shaking this feeling for years. This is often a burden victims carry with them every single day. What's odd to me is that Paul discusses the seriousness of sexual sin in his epistles and very few leaders seem to want to acknowledge them. 

1 Corinthians 6:15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!

1 Corinthians 6:18Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

     The point here is that most every other sin doesn't hurt people directly. A lie might hurt someone's feelings, stealing from someone may hurt their wallet, insulting someone could hurt an ego, being arrogant can hurt your reputation, but sexual sin? That deals with two separate parties. This is why murder, assault, and sexual immorality are often times looked upon as 'greater' sins because it causes much more hurt amongst a larger group of people. In the context here Paul is talking about consensual sex, let alone sexual assault or rape. Bottom line is that all other sins don't have nearly the amount of repercussions as those that involve physically hurting someone else. Sex was only intended for marriage, but no matter what, it should always be consensual.

Genesis 2:24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

     When I was a youth pastor at a church I discovered an individual, through an extensive series of events, with a history of abusing under age girls. He had abused his sister at a younger age and had an explosive/violent temper. After college he stayed at his mom's house where his sister lived, only now, his sister was a teenager. She felt unsafe at home and expressed this to my wife and I through many tears. She told us she had no ill will toward her brother, but she felt unsafe (rightfully so.) She informed us it was a few years prior when he was caught, and he hadn't tried anything since. She then expressed that she didn't want to press charges on her brother, she simply wanted him out of the house so she can feel safe again. My wife and I both understood and respected her position. So, I went to the senior pastor at the church and told him everything I had discovered (and more) and that he should talk to her mother about getting him out of the house. Well, both mom and pastor chose to sympathize more with the abuser than the abused. So they started dragging their feet and giving one excuse after the other why this man couldn't leave home. Meanwhile, the girl was getting increasingly distressed. Through a series of events, and the help of a fellow youth pastor, we got the law involved. As promised, she never pressed charges, but he was evicted from the premises and she is now entirely safe. The pastor condemned me for my actions, publicly shamed me, and to this day (for sake of his own reputation) denies that this poor girl was ever molested. This caused a small church split and many to this day blame me for the division, but this all took place due to the negligence of the administration and their desire to ignore such a dangerous issue. If such issues are ignored the cancer will spread and eventually have an effect on the rest of the Body of Believers. 

     Let it be known, that such abuse and behavior should never be tolerated by the church. As a youth pastor, I was the man in the watch tower and I had a simple choice: to act or not to act. I did what was necessary to protect a young girl and I have no regrets regarding that situation. Some to this day treat me with disdain from that church because they bought into the lie and have been deceived, but that doesn't matter. Sexual abuse should be treated seriously and with action. Not with sitting on of hands and a passive attitude. 

Too many churches empathize more with the abuser than the abused.

     I do not share this story to make myself out like a selfless hero. I share this story because the entire situation was about protecting the victims and empathizing more with the victim than with the abuser. No person should be forced to live with their abuser. No person should have to relive those experiences every day. This was about removing the cancerous tumor and preventing it from festering. There is a real need in churches today to realize the damage that can take place when we insist on showing mercy to the abuser instead of showing justice to the weak and powerless.  

Remember the Victim

     Whenever the destructive power of sin steps into the church it ought to be the administrations goal to handle the issue and to restore those who have committed sin in the church. To bring them to repentance before God and have them turn away from their sin. Paul made it clear that "he who is overtaken in a fault, those who are spiritual, should restore such a one." (Gal. 6:1) but how do we handle this? Well, Paul makes very clear in his letter to the church of Galatia. They had many sexually immoral people in that church and Paul reminds them that sexually immoral people are everywhere and that's normal for the world. However, among the church it is unaccaptable and ought to be avoided. 

1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one
     He then continues along these lines and ends this thought with, "purge the evil person from among you." This makes very clear to me that it's not the church's job to attempt to restore the abusers as much as it's our responsibility to protect the victim. We are told to cast them out and not even to eat dinner with such a one, let alone to fellowship and welcome them into our fold under the guise of "restoring them." We are told to obey the authorities, and the authorities tell us to report such abuses. That much is simple. Then, once the abuser is out of reach of potential victims, start the restoring process. Protect the people, protect your church, and please protect the victims. 

Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

     Since churches are often so concerned with restoring the abuser they tend to forget the damage that such a tragedy can have on a victim. To attend church in shame or embarrassment as their abuser sits in the crowd. How can a person worship in peace and feel safe in the house of God with their abuser in the very same room with nothing but a slap on the wrist?  It's disgusting. Worse yet, often when a scandal is exposed and charges are pressed the church in which such a scandal takes place is silent. They make no open statement condemning the action. So many churches have fallen prey to this "if we remain silent we may keep our reputation" idea, when actually it's just the opposite. Remember, the victims here. Publicly state that you are in full support of the victim and entirely condemn the abuser's actions and that such behavior is abhorrent. It is not difficult to call it what it is. Maybe if more churches did that we would hear more praise on how churches handle abuse rather than scrutiny. Maybe then churches would be looked upon as a safe haven where the weak and powerless are protected and supported, and that evil will be openly and profusely condemned. 

     No one wants to see someone's life ruined, but think about how such lack of action hurts the lives of those who have been affected by such an incident. No matter what happens in such a situation, someone's life is about to be turned upside down. Someone's life is about to get worse. Let's be sure it is the abuser's not the victim's.

Acts 7:24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.
Proverbs 21:15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.
    Christians would do well to remember that sexual abuse is a compulsive habit that abusers fall into. The abusers often know that it is wrong, yet they continue to do it, almost like they cannot help themselves. Dr. Anna Salter said that sexually offending is a "highly compulsive and repetitive behavior, the tenacity of which is truly impressive." There is no known cure besides intense treatment programs where the individual has to go under an entire restructuring of their impulses, entitled beliefs, and go through a literal renewing of their mind. (Rom. 12:2) This is why it is important to first restrain the offender while protecting the victim. The abusers will continue to abuse if nothing is done causing many more future victims. Consider them before you consider anyone else. 

Forgive and Forget?

     Many people in churches state the phrase "forgive and forget." Oddly enough, you will not find such a phrase in the Bible. The Bible commands us to forgive, but never to forget. That would be impossible, for how can one wipe their own memories (without a neuralizer?) This is where we get the Biblical concept of forgiveness a bit mixed up. Forgiveness should mean, “I choose to forgive the offender for the sake of Christ and move on with my life.” This means not dwelling on the sin, the sinner, or holding bitterness. Being cautious doesn't mean you haven't forgiven. Remember, forgiveness is different than trust. A victim will never be able to trust a rapist again (nor should they) but they can move, they can adjust, and they certainly can be rid of the power the abuser holds over them physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

     We forgive so that we can move on and not live within our hatred, bitterness, and scorn from wrong doings done against us. Not so that we will be foolish enough to run back to destruction. We can forgive, but we will never be able to forget. Just because you can't forget though doesn't mean you should harbor bitterness. For bitterness is an acid that only eats the vessel in which it is held (Jms. 1:19-20, Eph. 4) Bitterness can easily consume us, so remember to forgive the attacker, love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you, but do not fall into the belief where you "pretend it didn't happen." Because that is definitely not what the Bible says. In short, one can choose their sin, but not their consequence. If someone sexually assault someone, they will inherit some form of unseen consequence and it's our duty to report it. 

Scary Statistics and What You Can Do About Them 

     The reality is that such occurrences are all too common within our society and apparently even higher in the church. The National Center for Victims of Crime reported the following statistics: 

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident.
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
  • Children are most vulnerable to criminal sexual assault between the ages of 7 and 13.
(read the full report here.)

     Apparently in churches the risk is even greater and they tend to be a target for predators. However, due to poor reporting there are no concrete numbers on such in church incidents. A particular alarming quote from a child molester Dr. Salter warns us to keep a vigilant eye. 

I considered church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.
    Other statistics:
  • For every pedophile victim reported there are on average another eight that were not reported. (this is a modest statistic) 
  • Among these victims there are nearly 100 accounts of molestation among them. 
  • 80% of pedophiles begin with family members or those they are close to (neighbors, friends, congregant members.) 
  • Roughly only 5% of child molestations were ever reported. 
(more info here.)

     This makes perfect sense since many go to church want to believe in the best parts of people. It is a place where children should be safe (as they should,) but the reality is that we must always be vigilant. In the church I pastor we do everything we can to be sure that our children are safe. All children's workers go through a background check, all our classrooms have windows, none of our doors have locks, and we always have multiple workers with children and youth. In many ways this automatically discourages any such actions from taking place. God forbid that anything should happen, let it be known that our administration will stand behind the victim and show nothing but love and support to them and their family. 

    There are many sources on how to spot abusers so here are a few traits of abusers and things to watch our for: 

  • They are groomers: Remember, they are predatory by nature. As Dr. Jordan Peterson points out, they will actively seek out children as their friends. They will choose the quiet and insecure children through observation and become close to them in order to take advantage of them, but at this point the child will likely not object. They will constantly want to define reality and control the perspectives of those around them. 
  • They are flatterers: They also attempt to make the victim feel special in such a way that only the victim can satisfy them. Always volunteering their time and telling you just how "special" you are to them. 
  • They often attempt to isolate their victims: It can be seemingly innocent, so be mindful. They will even find ways to place distrust between the victim and their loved ones. 
  • They are masters of the puppet strings: they will play on their victim's pity and compassionate nature in order to deceive them into thinking that to report them would be to betray them. 
  • They are professional liars: They also tend to lie a lot. Over small things or big things. 
  • They are self-promoted victims: in most everything they do. They will do this in such a way that they can even manipulate others into sympathizing with them despite their horrendous actions. 
  • They are entirely entitled: they can think, say, and do whatever he wants to do, no matter what. They tend to be narcissistic, control freaks, and authoritarian in nature. (hence why this festers a lot within certain types of churches.) 
(More info here)

     The reality is, predators have the advantage. For they are master manipulators. Many act like other friendly people in the world, many have perfected the art of being the puppet master. So it is important to remain vigilant and be sure to always be mindful where the vulnerable victims could be and always to keep an eye on the horizon for any warning signs of such things.

In Conclusion

     At this point it is obvious that the Bible tells us to remain vigilant, protect the innocent, cast out defilers, and surrender them unto the authorities without being bitter toward these abusers, but instead with compassionate prayer. There should be an initial righteous indignation amongst the victim and the loved ones. That is normal and understandable, but we are to forgive and move on. 

    We see that sexual abuse is a very real danger that faces every single person every single day, but it is our children who are most in danger. Remember to empathize with the victim before you empathize with the abuser. Every abuser will try to manipulate you and your heart to gain pity from you. Do not let this happen. You are called to defend the innocent not to sympathize with the guilty. 

     For too long the church has had far too many stigmas slapped on it regarding this issue. How many pedophile Catholic jokes have you heard? Molesting minister jabs? Odds are you have probably heard many. This is because the vast majority of churches have not handled these issues properly and instead of condemning this behavior as we should, we push the idea of "forgive and forget" and "we all make mistakes" or "none of us are perfect." Instead of saying what Paul did, "purge the evil person among you." These are strong words used in scripture dealing with intense sin. It's time churches and pastors banded together across all denominational lines and took a strong stand against this issue. No more tolerated unrepentant abusers, no more silenced victims, no more pastors afraid to do that which is right, no more families forcing the abused to be in the same room as the abusers, this behavior must stop. We are stomping on the testimony of Christ every time we sweep these topics under a rug. I do not wish to grieve the Spirit of God, nor do I want to trample on the blood of Christ by allowing such wickedness to go unchallenged in our churches. 

    Remember, we as the church are to be the pillar of truth. We are to be that which the gates of hell cannot prevail against. In order to do that we must be firm against unrighteousness and therefore unapologetically defend the innocent. I hope and pray that this article helped equip someone out there on how to handle this sensitive topic within their own lives. 

1 Corinthians 15:58Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

For more information on the Biblical approach on how to handle such click on the following article. Let it be known I am not familiar with any of this author's work besides this single piece.

Ignoring the Sin of First Baptist Church in Hammond

Saturday, May 12, 2018


   One day at Bible College, we were in Chicago passing out literature for a new church being planted in the area. As we were putting up posters, handing out flyers, and engaging people in conversation, a man started walking toward us. His hair was dyed a deep red, he had a few ear piercings, and his arms were thoroughly decorated with a sleeve of tattoos. As I was speaking to someone else I saw this man walk by and I exclaimed, "Hey! How are you doing?" and I gave him a flyer, told him what was happening and invited him to church. After my current conversation ended. I regrouped with the other students with me, and two of the girls were looking at me as if they had seen a ghost. 

Me: What's wrong? 

Girl: I can't believe you spoke to that guy...
Me: Why not? We're promoting a church, right? 
Girl: Yeah, but look at him. He looked disgusting and had all those tattoos...
Me: Yeah? Well, tattoos don't make you immune to Jesus. He needs the gospel like everyone else.
Girl: People with tattoos have a reputation, and I doubt Jesus is part of that.
Me: That's a bold statement. There are plenty of Christians with tattoos. Some from their current life, some from a previous one, that doesn't dictate whether Jesus is in their life or not. With your logic, I shouldn't be here either, since I have a tattoo as well. (now I have two)
Girl: You have a tattoo!? (her mouth agape in disbelief)
Me: Sure do. Maybe you should think before making such a blanket statement. 

     That was an interesting day, to say the least. However, such conversations are pretty common in the church today. I believe the problem with the conversation mentioned here is obvious, but such extreme statements can obviously cause some problems within a church. However, this conversation stems from a simple question: Are tattoos sinful? Can a Christian get a tattoo without sinning? Should every Christian with a tattoo hide it in shame of their sin? Should Christians get their tattoos removed if they already have them? These tend to be the questions that surround this topic. 

What Does the Bible Say?

     The first thing Christians need to do is consider Scripture in all things. What does the Bible say regarding tattoos? The truth is; not much. This can be infuriating to some believers and liberating to others. There is only one verse in the entire Bible that mentions anything regarding this topic. 

Leviticus 19:28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord. (ESV)

     At first glance, this seems pretty straightforward. Open and shut case. This is a common mistake when reading scripture. Often times people pull one verse out of the Bible, giving no regards to the surrounding context, the clarification within the verse, or why this was written in the first place. This is especially important when reading any part of the Old Testament Law. Notice what book this was written in: Leviticus. This is a book written to the tribe of Levi. The Levitical Law was to this particular tribe at a particular time. This tribe was the priestly tribe. They were the ones in charge of the Tabernacle, sacrifices, and other holy duties.  They were charged with different regulations than the rest of Israel, and Israel was given different rules than New Testament Christians. Context is important. 

     What I find strange is that when this verse is brought up regarding tattoos, many people don't take into account the other things in the book of Leviticus. Here are just a few examples of verses just before this verse: 

Leviticus 19:19 You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material. 
(Most of our clothes are made of multiple materials.)
Leviticus 19:23 When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. 
(We no longer wait three years to check if it's safe due to modern advancements.) 
Leviticus 19:26 You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.
(No more medium rare steaks.)

          You will find a lot of odd things like this in the Old Testament Laws and that's because God was giving them wisdom.  Since back then they had more diseases, no modern medicine, etc., God instructed His people in a way to more guarantee His people's safety and health. Due to this instruction, ancient Israel was one of the healthiest nations ever recorded in history. That's also why they took sexual immorality and rebellious children so seriously. God wisely instructed them to protect them from disease and tearing themselves apart from the inside when they were constantly surrounded by enemies. 

     What's even more interesting is that many who object to tattoos coincidentally have their ears pierced. Which is "cutting your body" to a degree, isn't it? Or what about verses like this?

1 Timothy 2:9 Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire...
(Many women braid their hair, wear gold, pearls, and nice clothes every day.)

    Many people already know that this wasn't a commanded blanket rule. Within context, he's emphasizing that women should be striving for a modesty of the heart, and not looking for outward affirmation or attention. He wasn't expressly forbidding hair braids. Just the emphasis. Again, context is important. 

So What's the Context? 

     Since we've already emphasized that context is important, and can entirely change the meaning of a verse when ripped out of context, we should clarify the context entirely. At this point we've already addressed that this was part of the Levitical Law for a certain people, during a certain time, and now we must talk about the context within the verse itself. 

Original Hebrew: Tattoo

 קַעֲקַע Qa`aqa` (kah·ak·ah'): Stigma, brand, incision, gash, mark. 

     Oddly enough, this verse is not referring to tattoos the way we think of them. It's not talking about ink trapped between layers of skin, but more talking about scarring and maiming yourself. The Bible does not speak once about tattoos as we know them. Not that any of that matters because the verse itself clarifies its own context. 

Leviticus 19:28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord. (ESV)

     This is the most important part of this entire conversation. We could talk about Old Testament vs. New Testament, original word meanings, and other contextual commands, but this part is the crux of the matter. The verse specifically clarifies itself: do not get these for the dead, because I am the Lord. 

     In Biblical times there were so many pagan religions about and all of them had various customs within their worship. The Israelites definitely saw this during their time in Egypt since the Egyptians would tattoo their women thinking it gave them blessings of fertility from the gods. Other civilizations, like the Canaanites, would ink their bodies, commit extreme scarification, gash themselves, brand themselves, etc. They would especially do this for ritualistic purposes to try and gain their gods' blessing. This is why God forbade the Levites from doing such things. The Israelites were not to worship God or honor the dead the way the pagans would. 

     Today, when you see braided hair do you think of a prostitute? When you see piercings or tattoos do you think of mourning for the dead? Bodily scarring in false worship? Not likely. The context here was to set Israel aside as a peculiar people and make sure that their way of worshipping God did not mirror that of the pagans. Today, tattoos are not used in worship but of artistic expression, sentimental markings, or reminders. The worldview and context has changed drastically since biblical times. The context in this verse is: do not participate in false worship. 

Your Body is the Temple of God

     Undoubtedly, whenever this discussion is brought up someone is going to quote 1 Corinthians 6:19. Where the Bible talks about our bodies being God's temple.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own...

     This verse is used out of context all the time. This entire passage (vs. 12-20) is referring to sexual immorality. It is not referring to weight, piercings, tattoos, shaving, hair-dye, makeup etc. This verse is specifically talking about sexual immorality because sexual sin is a very unique sin. One that is internal, manifests itself physically, but can affect people on the inside for years to come. Paul was saying,  to not defame the temple that is within you through joining yourself with someone else sinfully. That's the entire morality here, to flee sexual immorality. Nothing more. Nothing less. 

All of our bodies are God's temple, but some of us just like to decorate it. 

     When we rip verses out of their original context we can land in a dangerous place. By applying commands that are not ours, by claiming promises that are not ours, and by demanding from others that which is not theirs. Not caring about context can land us in strange places. Notice how this could work in the reverse: 

Revelation 19:16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

     Out of context here I could really make a case that Jesus Himself has a tattoo. I mean, how else could it be written here? Now granted this could be solely figurative, but do you see how this sort of disregard to scriptural context can cause complications? Let me ask of you to always apply the context within scripture and you will find so much more satisfaction within the consistency of scripture and your Christian life. 



     Since we've discussed the context, and have seen that God's Word really mentions nothing of tattoos (as we know them) it is safe to say that this is a liberty issue. People are free within their Christian life to get a tattoo if they so wish, but they should do so wisely. What would you be getting? Where? Why? All these questions should be asked and executed in a fashion that is wise. Use wisdom and discretion when doing so. After-all, they don't just wash off so whatever you get, you're obviously stuck with. 

    Next time you see someone with a tattoo, don't jump to a judgmental conclusion, do not condemn them, but walk in understanding that we all have liberty in Christ and to live in His grace. If you choose to, that is your liberty. If you choose not to, that is your liberty. Just remember, if you choose to get a tattoo be sure it is not something that'll mar the testimony of Christ that is within you. 

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Monday, July 17, 2017

     Recently in the church I pastor this matter came up and it sparked a bit of controversy. Naturally, I’ve been asked my position on the matter and what a Christian should do regarding this topic. Well, as everyone knows it can be a very sensitive and complicated subject to discuss. However, in some circles this topic has become so polarized it’s difficult to have a rational conversation regarding this topic with a pursuit of truth. So, with no further ado let’s jump right into it.

     It’s no secret that alcoholism has been a problem for thousands of years (since biblical times actually) We’ve all heard the tragic stories of the abusive alcoholic father, the broken drunken mother, or the friend that got killed from a drunk driver. These things are horrible especially because they’ve effected other people. However, as Christians asking this question…we must ask ourselves what the Bible says regarding this topic.

     What got me asking this topic was about ten years ago I was in high school and my best friend invited over to his family’s house for Thanksgiving. We arrived and all the festivities had started. I met my friend’s family including his grandpa who was a pastor of a church in town. As we sat down for a meal the pastor got up, reached into the cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of wine to share (as was tradition apparently) I was caught off guard since I knew he was a pastor and I leaned over to my friend and asked “Your grandpa drinks? But I thought he was a pastor…” My friend acknowledged this and said “The Bible only says that we can’t be drunk…not that we can’t drink.” I sat there awkwardly pondering every verse I could think of in my head and decided I’d go home and see if he was right. But I was almost certain he was wrong. Therein started my journey of studying this topic in depth.
     Now remember, as we study this we need to have an objective view on what the Bible says. Because the Christian’s sole authority lies in the Word of God. Not in the opinions or fears of man. We have to understand that it is our job as Christians to follow God and therefore follow His word. To add or to take away from it is sin. To ignore blatant commands is also sin.

Warnings in Scripture

     There are endless amounts of warnings in scripture about being drunken or being a drunkard. There is no doubt that according to scripture and the Bible that to be drunk is a sin. Here we can see some of the various warnings in scripture.

Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray (šōḡeh: intoxicated) by it is not wise (KJV)

Proverbs 23:29-31 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.

(Also see: Prov. 23:20-21, 31:1-7)

     When reading these passages, we see there is a large emphasis on drunkards and being intoxicated with alcohol, seeking it early in the morning and desiring it at all times. This is clearly a picture of alcoholism. Proverbs has many passages regarding this. Consider for a moment, what the book of Proverbs is. A Proverb, in short, is a principle of wisdom. This was a text from Solomon to his son. Proverbs are not necessarily commands or promises of God, but more like wise principles. A good example of this is:

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

     This principle from Proverbs places an emphasis on training your children properly. However, we’ve all known children who were raised right but still went astray. Does that mean this verse is lying? No. It’s because Proverbs are principles. Not promises or commands. Many times, Proverbs reflect a promise or command or reiterate one, but the book of Proverbs is a book of wise principles to help us in day to day decision making. This is what makes Proverbs such a practical book.

Proverb: a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.

     Now all that being said, all these Proverbs really emphasize one thing: drunkenness is a sin. Now what about other passages outside of Proverbs? Well some other popular passages are as follows.

Leviticus 10:9 Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.

     This verse is found in Leviticus. Remember, Leviticus was the law to the priestly tribe of the Levites. There were a lot of various commands on what they could and could not do when entering the Tabernacle of God all the way down to what kind of threads their clothes were made out of. However, the law of the Levites does not apply to the New Testament Christian because we are not Levitical priests nor are we under any Levitical Law. 

Numbers 6:1-6 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.
“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.
“All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body.

     Well this one is pretty clear. This was a special vow for only the Nazarite and they were forbidden to even touch grapes. If you read forward through the passage you’ll find that they weren’t able to cut their hair, touch dead flesh, among many other things. If you remember, Samson was a Nazarite. This was a special vow for a special people. This does not apply to the Christian.

     Then we see that in Proverbs there are commands on when to give someone strong drink. Especially those of a heavy heart. However, most of us would tell people not to drink if they are depressed for fear of falling into alcoholism. But this was written by Lemuel’s mother to him as advice to rule the kingdom. Not a command from God.

Proverbs 31:5-6 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress...

(This goes back to Proverbs being principles from a wise parent to a child. Not necessarily promises or commands of God)

      I could go on but in the Old Testament the only parts that forbid it were part of a special vow, and the rest were warnings of not being drunk. In the New Testament, we see the same pattern except all we really see are commands of not being drunk and instead staying sober (I Peter 4:3, Galatians 5:21, Romans 13:13 etc.) If you comb through every verse regarding this topic in the Bible you will find a pattern…it’s only a sin to be drunk not necessarily to drink.

     When I discovered this in my studies I still wasn’t convinced. I mean, after all it probably was still unwise for any Christian to imbibe such a thing, right? I mean, I would hate to be a stumbling block. Well, the next bit is where things became very real for me regarding the topic.

Did Jesus Drink Wine?

     As a child in Sunday School they always said that Jesus turned the water into wine. But the wine was really grape juice. I, as a child, took their word for it. However, when I got older and decided to study it…I found this out. Brace yourself were going to get technical here…

     According to Jewish wedding tradition (even to this day) fermented wine is/was always served. Therefore, Jesus was attending a wedding where alcoholic wine was served. So, when they ran out of wine the people became upset. This is because wine was always expected and wine “makes glad the hearts of men.” This is when Jesus chose to turn the water into wine. In fact, the master of the feast noted that it was better so it was an even finer wine...but wasn't it grape juice?

Read this verse carefully…

John 2:9-10 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine (oinos), and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine (oinos) first, and when people have drunk (methysthōsin) freely, then the poor wine (oinos). But you have kept the good wine (oinos) until now.

(Oinos: Greek word for wine meaning ‘to be fermented’)

(Luke 7:33-35 we see Jesus drank wine and was called a drunkard, but John the Baptist did not drink wine and was accused of demon possession)

     I want us to notice the word used in the Greek here for drunk: μεθυσθῶσιν (methysthōsin) this word means you can get drunk or intoxicated. This word is also used in Acts 2:15 when Peter is defending the apostles against accusations of drunkenness. So, the wine being served was indeed alcoholic since this word is exclusively used when referring to the ability of one becoming drunk.

     Jesus turning the water into wine was His first miracle and there’s a reason for it. Wine was a symbol of God’s blessing and promise throughout the Old Testament. Wine was a symbol of wealth, prosperity, and blessings (not just carnal drunkenness) the miracle expressed that God blessed the works and doings of Jesus and that His promises were fulfilled in Christ. Don’t believe me? Read this passages from the Old Testament.

​Isaiah 55:1-2 Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Psalm 104:14-15 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.

Amos 9:14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

(How can God approve what you do if what you do is sinful? If drinking wine was a sin then how could God ever accept their works?)

...Or was it grape juice?
In the Old Testament, this was not just grape juice.
Yayin (יַיִן): from the root to boil up or to be fermented. (translated: wine)

     Grape juice is not fermented. Wine is fermented. This actually makes a lot of sense since they had no means of refrigeration so it didn’t take long for the grape juice to become fermented. They had no way to preserve it and they had no way to stop it from fermenting.

     So, to answer this question “Did Jesus drink wine?” He most certainly did if we are being honest with what the Bible actually says. Jesus turning the water into wine was confirming the blessing of God upon Jesus Himself. Read Isaiah 24:9-13, here we see a desolate picture where there is no wine or blessing from God. In fact, everything is down trodden and torn. Jesus committing his first miracle at a wedding feast (the church is the Bride of Christ) and turning water into wine (a blessing from God) is no coincidence.

Later on, in the New Testament we see that Paul forbids being drunk as it is excessive.

Ephesians 5:17 And do not get drunk with wine (oinos), for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.

However, later on we see Paul tell Timothy to drink wine…

1 Timothy 5:23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine (oinos) for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments

     Back then their water was filthy in comparison to our water today. It was filled with bacteria and would make people sick. So, Paul tells Timothy to drink wine to settle his stomach. Paul wouldn’t tell them to drink wine if it was a sin, would he? No. He wouldn’t. So, one must assume that to imbibe isn’t necessarily a sin.

Stumbling Block Principle (Rom. 14:13-23, I Cor. 8:9-13)

     So, what about being a stumbling block? Couldn’t someone imbibing in wine or other things be a stumbling block to someone else? The first problem with this principle is people apply it to everything without any regard to the context. The first thing I have to mention is that it’s important to note that the stumbling block principle refers to a “weaker brother” (I Cor. 8:13) Paul said he wouldn’t eat of meat or drink of wine if it were to offend someone. However, later we see that he tells Timothy to drink wine. So it wasn’t a blanket rule to all Christians, but instead a choice Paul made while being around those that could be offended. Plus, today Christians get offended by what we watch on TV, what music we listen to, if we go to theaters, where we shop, what brands we wear, if women wear pants, what Bible version we use etc. It’s actually impossible to not offend anyone. Even Jesus and Paul offended the Pharisees.

     We all do this generally speaking. When someone is around whom you know doesn't like something you don't bring it up. If you avoid certain topics with people, or showing certain things to people this doesn't necessarily make you two-faced. It can make you wise. I don't want to offend a brother unnecessarily, especially over something trivial. It's not secret that I love Star Wars, but I have people in my life who find Star Wars evil/offensive. So to be respectful when I'm around them I don't bring it up. If you have someone around who struggles with addictions or just got out of AA it would be a stumbling block to bring out alcohol around that individual. This would seem a practical application to the weaker brother/stumbling block principle.

     The key is to pay attention to the weaker brother and treat carefully to not stumble them in their walk. To not trip them and instead to uplift them. We all live our Christian lives differently. We shouldn’t be offended by that. Instead, we should just be respectful of other people’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences and not stumble them if we can avoid it. It's also important to note that a mature Christian should not allow themselves to be tripped up by things that fall under individual soul liberty.

2 Cor. 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

(Also see Romans 14:12-16)

In Conclusion

      There is no verse in God’s Word that states one cannot drink alcohol (Besides the Nazarite vows) We see many positive pictures of wine. We see many negative pictures of wine. We even see Church leaders endorse the use of it. All the negative pictures we receive of wine is when it is used in excess. This would be the same as gluttony. Food isn’t bad, obviously, but it can be in excess. In fact, anything can be evil or even become an idol when used in excess. (Prov. 23:2, Eph. 5:18) Plus, the idea that every time wine is used in the Bible negatively must mean it’s alcoholic and every time it’s used positively it must be grape juice is faulty and ignoring history, language, cultural context, and not being intellectually honest.

     Many people say “Well, families have been destroyed by alcohol!” No, they have not. Families have been destroyed by people making poor decisions. When someone is shot with a gun we blame the individual. Same should be with alcohol. It’s never an object’s fault for the choice of an individual. To blame the object is to create a scapegoat where people do not take responsibility for their actions. People make poor decisions and must take account for those decisions. Not blame the alcohol, not blame the gun, not blame the food, but instead blame themselves and become better for it. God teaches us we are responsible for our deeds. No one else and nothing else. We are all individually responsible for the self.

     It’s important to take scripture at face value and not add any more to it. We will all live our Christian lives differently and we should not take offense by that. To claim it’s a sin is to overstep a bound that God never did. In fact, it appears God made it as a luxury and a symbol of blessing, but it's mankind’s sin that perverted its usage. God is not the author of confusion and makes clear what is sin and what is not. If drinking alcohol was a sin He would lay it out plainly before mankind. He wouldn’t send mixed messages. God created language and knows how to communicate clearly. When it comes to alcohol God communicated it perfectly clear. It’s not sinful to drink, but it is a sin to be drunk.

     It would appear that this view is biblically sound as presented above and is also more biblically consistent than any other view. It makes sense the wine/alcohol could be used in a luxurious and enjoyable manner. Also, that the excess of it would be sinful (since food is the same way) Christians should also be mindful of their weaker brother and if they choose to drink they should do so with wisdom, discretion, and caution. Remember, we are to care for our own bodies as the Temples of God. However, when we care for ourselves in excess it becomes selfishness and pride. We are to eat and sustain ourselves, but in excess it becomes gluttony. We are to provide for our families, but when we focus on an excess for money it becomes greed. We are to care about our testimonies, but in excess we become man-pleasers. We are to be good stewards about our futures, but in excess we have a lack of faith. Likewise, someone can drink an adult beverage, but in excess it becomes drunkenness.

     I can now say with confidence that after careful study and being corrected about my previous stance years ago, that technically speaking to imbibe is not a sin. Keep in mind that no Christian should push something on another Christian for risk of making a Christian brother compromise his own conscience. A Christian is free to drink casually, but they are also free not to. How you decide to apply these principles in your life is your choice. Abstention or moderation: it’s your decision. For me to forbid its use is to overstep a boundary God never did and I am not comfortable with that nor do I have the authority to do that. Because once I start applying other standards without a clear statement in scripture we start sliding down a very slippery slope of applying people’s opinions over the commands of scripture. That’s how legalism and Pharisaical behavior sets in. By applying principles/rules to people’s lives that God never did. By telling God “Your Word is not enough so I must apply a rule here where you didn’t.”

     So, can you drink? I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you what the Bible says. Be careful, be cautious, stay sober, stay vigilant, and make wise decisions regarding this topic.